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Strategy vs. Tactics: What’s the Difference?

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When it comes to setting goals for your business, it’s important to have sound strategy and actionable tactics. Now, that may sound like I’m being redundant, or I’m just filling the air with fancy business jargon. Aren’t strategies and tactics basically the same thing, just different wording?

Actually, they have completely different meanings. At this point, you may lean toward one side of the strategy vs. tactics debate. But just because they mean different things doesn’t mean they’re opposed to each other.

If you’re going to get business goal-setting right once and for all, you’ll need to know how to work with both. But first, let’s define the terms strategy and tactic.

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What is strategy?

A strategy is a long-term action plan, similar to a goal, but instead of focusing on the end result (i.e., the goal), it focuses on the theme or approach you take to achieve said goal.

Say your company’s goal is to reduce customer attrition (or increase customer retention). An example of a business strategy that helps you achieve this goal would be. “Prioritize same-day customer support.” Or “always keep customers in the loop with new developments.” It’s a framework or guiding principle that helps you move closer to your objective.

What makes a good strategy?

A good business strategy centers on the company’s mission and long-term goals. When deciding on strategies to achieve these objectives, it’s important to get valuable input from across the organization to make sure all members are on board. 

Additionally, a good strategy is easily understandable and actionable, meaning you could brainstorm actionable tactics by referring to it. This leads us to our next definition.

What are tactics?

Tactics, in relation to strategy, are the daily and weekly (sometimes monthly) actions that are tracked over the short term. They are specific steps you take to execute a strategy—what achieving your goal actually looks like on a day-to-day basis. 

If we expand on the business strategy example of prioritizing same-day customer support, an example of a tactic would be to “Respond to a customer within the hour they send an inquiry to let them know you’ve received it.”

What makes a good tactic?

A good tactic is SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound). It leaves no question of how to accomplish it or by when. 

Great business tactics align with your strategies and long-term goals. They are also easily achieved within a short period and allow you to celebrate daily victories on the way to achieving your dreams.

The differences between strategy vs tactics

Still unsure about the differences between strategy and tactics? Use this handy table as a reference for your next goal-setting meeting.

StrategyTactic
Big-picture approach to an objectiveSpecific actions to help achieve an objective
Long-termShort-term
Focused on an approachFocused on an action
Measured in terms of progress toward long-term goalsMeasured in terms of immediate outcomes
Contributes to achieving long-term goalsContributes to achieving long-term goals
Adjusts to changes over time, based on feedback and environmentQuick to adapt based on immediate feedback and results
Provides a guide in which tactics operateOperates within the guide set by a strategy
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The relationship between strategy and tactics

As you can see, strategies and tactics are closely related. A good strategy is ineffective without concrete tactics, and tactics are directionless without a solid strategy. Let’s explore a few ways in which these two terms relate to each other.

Which comes first, strategy or tactics?

No matter where you’re setting goals, be it in sports, war, or business, it helps to have a north star or compass that guides your actions. 

That’s why having long-term, approach-focused strategies before planning tactics is key to success. 

Simply put, strategize first and plan out your tactics second.

When to use strategy vs. when to use tactics

You want to approach strategies on a long-term basis, like yearly, quarterly, or monthly. That’s because the effects of strategic planning can only be experienced in the long term. 

So, it’s best to use strategy when discussing your goals and core values. When you know what you want to achieve in the next year, month, or quarter, you can plan your roadmap–your strategy–which will inform the approach you take to achieving your goals.

Tactical planning is done more frequently, on a daily, weekly, or once-off basis. You can effectively map out your tactics by first examining your goals and strategies for achieving them.

An example of how strategy and tactics work together

Let’s look at how to apply strategies and tactics in a real-world situation to better grasp the difference between these two terms.

Strategy: A B2B software company wants to increase the rate of customer retention in the next quarter. From examining reviews, customer feedback, and surveys, they conclude that poor customer support is one of the main reasons for attrition. 

So, they decide to prioritize fast and efficient customer support that is consistent with their core values. This is their strategy for the new quarter.

Tactics: With this strategy in mind, some of the tactics this company can implement include: 

  • Conducting staff training for the customer support team
  • Deciding on an actionable, if-then process to get customer inquiries solved within a shorter time frame
  • Implementing this process whenever a customer inquiry comes through
  • Daily standup meetings within the customer support team to report on their progress with their tactics and share ideas on how to better align tactics with the established strategy

The importance of strategy and tactics in business

Strategy and tactics work best in tandem. Let’s hypothesize how our earlier example would look if we removed either strategy or tactics from the equation.

The consequences of neglecting strategy

tactics without strategy

Tactics without strategy is like going on a trip without a map. You’ll get somewhere, but without a destination in mind, that could be anywhere. You’ll have no idea where you are, or how you got there. Worse, you forgot to grab your lunch and don’t know how to get back home. 

Companies implement tactics without a strategy for several reasons, such as the allure of short-term wins and quick results. But ultimately, ignoring the development and maintenance of a good strategy hinders a company’s ability to achieve real success.

If the B2B customer support team mentioned earlier had that list of tactics, they would surely improve their performance. But, without a clear direction and purpose for these tactics, it would be easy for the team members to neglect them or cut corners since they don’t see the long-term purpose of their actions.

The consequences of neglecting tactics

strategy without tactics

Having a strategy without tactics is like having a dream without an action plan. It’s frustrating because you know exactly what you want to achieve, but you’re not making any forward progress.

For a company, a strategy-only approach lets them off the hook regarding follow-through and holding themselves accountable. This approach benefits nobody.

The strategy of fast and efficient customer support is an ideal that will look different for each member of the customer success team. What is fast for one team member might be slow or too fast for another. There’s no measurable way to see if they’re actually living up to the ideal, leading to wasted resources and lots of frustration.

How to track your strategies and tactics with a CRM

Effective business planning is all about making your goals simple to understand and achieve. And what’s simpler than a CRM that can help you track and measure your sales strategies and tactics, all from one interface?

Customer relationship management (CRM) software can help you keep accountable to your strategies and tactics with features such as:

  • Automated sales processes: Automate the tactics that matter the most to you in your sales pipelines, such as email outreach and lead qualifying. Plus, you can customize your pipeline triggers to make sure that your tactics and strategies align.
  • Collaboration and communication tools: Make sure everyone is in the loop regarding the day-to-day business tactics you use to achieve your sales goals. Keep Lead, People, and Company interactions up to date and accessible to your entire team with notes and tagging capabilities.
  • Advanced analytics and reporting: With sales reports, productivity reports, and lead analysis, you can see how your business strategies are working, allowing you to adjust where necessary.

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FAQs about strategy vs tactics

Have a few unanswered questions about strategies and tactics? Here are some frequently asked questions and answers.

What are the differences between goals, strategies, and tactics?

A goal is the outcome that an individual or organization wants to achieve. A strategy is the approach that you use to achieve your goal, akin to a compass. A tactic is a short-term action that you use to achieve your goal and follow your strategy on a short-term (often daily or weekly) basis.

What are the five Ps of strategy?

The five P’s of strategy is a guide that organizations can use to develop meaningful and easy-to-understand strategies. The five P’s are elements that your strategy can include, and the more it includes, the easier it will be to plan specific tactics around. The P’s stand for:

  • Plan: “We will…”
  • Ploy: “We’ll achieve our goal by…”
  • Pattern: “We always…”
  • Position: “We’ll be the best [type of service/product] for [ideal customer]…”
  • Perspective: “We believe…”

What is an example of a strategic goal vs a tactical goal?

An example of a strategic goal could be to increase lead acquisition through position-focused social media marketing.

A complementary example of a tactical goal would be committing to posting a certain number of social posts a week.

Manage your strategy and tactics with Nutshell

Effective business goal-setting requires harmony between long-term strategies and short-term tactics. We hope this article helped you understand the differences between the two, how they work together, and how you can apply both to your business.

Nutshell delivers an affordable solution to help you achieve your sales goals, strategies, and tactics. With customizable sales pipelines, performance tracking, and various AI-powered tools, Nutshell is the CRM for business leaders who are serious about achieving their goals.

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